May 14, 2023 - Education

New Orleans finally completes post-Katrina school restoration project

Photo shows a dirty classroom with chairs knocked over and grime everywhere

Hurricane Katrina devastated public school buildings in New Orleans, including Stuart R. Bradley Elementary. The school has been fixed and is now Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary. Photo: Courtesy of NOLA Public Schools

Nearly 18 years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans officials are celebrating a long-awaited milestone:

  • All public school buildings in the city damaged or destroyed during the storm have been rebuilt or restored.

The big picture: The project, completed in March 2023 with the opening of the Dr. Alice Geoffray High School, was the largest school rebuilding program in the country’s history.

  • Hurricane Katrina severely damaged or destroyed 110 of the 126 public school buildings.
  • The project cost about $2.1 billion and was primarily funded by FEMA.

What they did: Katrina hit in 2005, and the school facilities master plan was adopted two years later as a long-term rebuilding strategy.

  • It was a partnership between the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District.
  • In 2009, President Barack Obama visited one of the first rebuilt schools — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School.
Photo shows before and after pictures of Eleanor McMain High School. On the left, the building's facade has faded paint. On the right, it is repainted in vibrant golds, greens and reds.
Eleanor McMain High School was renovated under the master plan. The before photo is on the left and the after photo is on the right. Photo courtesy of Concordia and NOLA Public Schools

By the numbers: Under the master plan, there are now:

  • 32 new schools.
  • 17 renovated schools.
  • 31 refurbished schools.
  • 9 preserved schools.
  • The remaining 37 schools were demolished, sold or are being used as swing space to accommodate students while their schools are being renovated, according to Annie Clark with the Recovery School District.

Zoom out: NOLA Public Schools is governed by the Orleans Parish School Board and is the only all-charter public school system in the country.

  • The district has about 43,000 students.
  • NOLA Public Schools currently oversees 72 public schools.
  • Superintendent Avis Williams is the first female leader in the district’s 181 years.
Photo shows happy children in school uniforms in front of playground equipment
KIPP Morial in Plum Orchard is part of NOLA Public Schools. Photo: Courtesy of NOLA Public Schools

What's next: The school district has come far, but there’s still a ways to go in terms of building maintenance.

  • District leaders are asking voters to renew a 4.97-mill property tax in October to fund school maintenance for the next 20 years.
  • Leaders told Axios they estimate $237 million in repairs will be needed over the next 10 years.

What we're watching: Earlier this year, district officials said Homer Plessy Community School, the last public school in the French Quarter, would close permanently due to $11 million needed for repair costs.

  • The school was not part of the post-Katrina master plan, officials told Axios.
  • The controversial decision was later put on hold after an outcry from the school community.
  • Williams told Axios the operations team "will be working closely with school leadership to determine next steps during the upcoming school year."
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